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Forget punishment & rehabilitation… for one UK prison, handing out purple ‘pronoun’ badges is the priority

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Forget punishment & rehabilitation… for one UK prison, handing out purple ‘pronoun’ badges is the priority
At HMP Isle of Wight, which once held the Yorkshire Ripper and Moors Murderer Ian Brady, the focus is now on inclusion; badges are being distributed to ensure 1,000 sex offender inmates’ feelings aren’t hurt by being misgendered.

Before Parkhurst Prison was downgraded in the 1990s it enjoyed a reputation as one of the toughest jails in Britain. Now, however, as HMP Isle of Wight, it has become a laughing stock for its tin-eared efforts to appease the gender gestapo.

In preparation for National Inclusion Week, the prison’s equalities team – who knew jails had such things? – are distributing pronoun badges among the lags. They can choose from six on offer that among them ask that the wearer be referred to with the pronouns ‘he/they’, ‘she/her’, ‘they/them’, and even ‘Ask Me’ for those who can’t make up their minds.

If Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were still writing their prison comedy ‘Porridge’, starring Ronnie Barker, they’d be stealing this idea for sure, because you can’t help but laugh. This is the prison that once held Moors murderer Ian Brady, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, and the Kray twins.

Now I know the spend on a bunch of badges is not a huge issue, but a prison equalities team doesn’t come cheap and it seems a bit of a skewed priority to consider this is ‘must-do’, particularly as British prisons face so many challenging issues. And I don’t mean #inclusion, #equality, or #diversity.

Drugs, violence, overcrowding, suicide, mental health, and staff shortages are endemic. Yet down on the Isle of Wight, they apparently have bigger fish to fry, battling the evil of misgendering and the hurt feelings that might result from that. In. A. Prison.

While the jail may no longer be notorious for its tough regime, the 1,000 inmates are no angels, and almost all of them are serving time having been convicted of sex offences. The most recent visit from the prisons inspector, in 2019, found real problems, with more than half the inmates admitting they felt unsafe during their incarceration.

The inspector said that the management’s response to violence among prisoners “was not good enough, leading to inconsistent challenge of perpetrators and little support for victims.” He also reported high levels of self-harm and three suicides since his last inspection in 2015 and said it was “concerning” that some Prisons and Probation Ombudsman recommendations had not been implemented. 

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So it’s not as if the prison management doesn’t have important things to worry about when it thinks about celebrating National Inclusion Week. It’s just that some things, like making everyone pronoun proficient, seem to be considered more important than, say, preventing inmates from hanging themselves.

This latest farce shows just how insidious critical theory on identity has become. Nowhere is safe from its reach. Even within those high prison walls, progressive thinkers are spouting nonsense to a – literally – captive audience, who seize on it with all the enthusiasm of those with too much spare time on their hands.

And now the prison management looks foolish to those of us on the outside. A willingness to latch on to the progressive view of identity politics is not what the taxpayer wants to see in our prison system, or among those who run it. We want prisoners locked up safely, rehabilitated, and released when their sentences are complete. It’s a big ask, and a tough job. 

It has nothing to do with woke gender theory or cutesy little purple badges to be worn so that prisoners aren’t offended. HMP Isle of Wight has fallen into the progressives’ trap – and now it can add ‘PR disaster’ to the list of issues needing urgent attention.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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